Cowboys and Canines

Written by Dr. Nicholas Pappas. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on March 27, 2012 with No Comments

One of the most beautiful songsI’ve heard is by Andrea Bocelli.  It is called “Con Te Partirò–Time to Say Goodbye”.  When I hear one of the greatest voices in the world sing a soft, mellifluous rendition of this song, I challenge the most hardened of us to hold back the tears. 

The song conjures up many emotions.  There is a time to say goodbye. But how does one say goodbye to someone or something we love with all our heart?  It is with great difficulty.  Of course, I’m referring to the loss of a beloved pet.

I’ve been asked many times what the most rewarding moment of my career has been.  I’ve been blessed with so many wonderful experiences in an extended career that answering such an existential question impossibility. 

But, I can point to one of the most beautiful moments of my life.  It was helping a dear client say goodbye to a pet who had given and received a limitless amount of love. 

After a long life and exhaustive testing, it became obvious that the pet’s vital organs were beginning to fail.  The time had come to discuss all options. It can only be hoped that the veterinarian’s empirical experience, perception and compassion can help guide the owners to a decision.  Ultimately, it is the owner’s decision and that they cannot make a wrong decision.  Let me repeat this.  As long as the owner’s decision is tempered with love and compassion, they cannot make a wrong decision.

I am not a counselor. There are other professionals for this who can help the owner, the veterinarian, the family and be part of a “team” decision.  The owner should never be made to feel alone and absorb all the stress.

Earlier, I mentioned a case that was beautiful.  This case was particularly emotional.  She asked if I would come to her home.  I knew this would mean a great deal to her and her husband.  My assistant and I arrived and were led into the living room which had been transformed into a veterinary hospice.  There were candles, crucifix, and a special bed.  There was a song on a loop which played “Con the Partier”.  We were all in tears before I had my coat off.

We all sat on the floor and talked about a myriad of things.  I let them “guide” me.  We discussed her art work, many memories of their pet’s life and, of course, faith.  We could smile and cry simultaneously.  And, at the appropriate time of the owner’s choosing, I proceeded to tell them about the procedure and what to expect.  I explained I always give the pet a mild sedative. There are some I will not use and it is quite appropriate for the veterinarian to be queried about this by the owner. 

If a client asks me about my opinion as to whether they should stay with their pet, I always tell them that if the client can deal with it, I would prefer the pet sees and hears its master’s voice at the end rather than that of a stranger.  But again, an owner cannot make a mistake.  Whatever they feel is right for them is right.  A great deal of research and a plethora of books have been written on this subject.  Your veterinarian should be able to provide this material well ahead of the time to say goodbye. 

Newer and more progressive animal hospitals are building chapel-like rooms exclusively used for this purpose.  These rooms have separate outside exits so a family (including older children) stay as long as they want, away from the daily routine of the hospital. 

Many owners ask my opinion about the possibility of seeing their pet again. I might suggest a recently published book called, “Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back”. 

And, of course, the awkward subject of finances must be addressed.  Most of the time, it was performed gratis or dealt with some other time.  Payment can also be made in advance. I never send a bill with a sympathy card.  I am proud that most veterinarians send flowers or make donations to a particular veterinary hospital’s research facilities. 

I feel very strongly that the reader can glean the idea that like primary care physicians, veterinarians shouldn’t only be there to give immunizations and neuter the pet.  We now have a greater understanding.  A kind word and gentle touch can go a very long way.  I’d like to believe my colleagues have always known this.

Many options are available to the client today when it comes to the remains—private burial, private cremation, cemeteries.  It’s no less a conundrum for the conscientious pet owner as it is for humans.    

It is said that humans go through all five stages of grief–denial, bargaining, anger, grief, resolution– yet bargaining is thought to be less important.   In this I disagree.  I also disagree with the aphorism “closure.”  We move forward and accept God’s countenance. 

Ecclesiastes says, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven:  a time to be born and a time to die . . . .”  For all those who read this article and understand, no explanation is necessary.  For those who don’t understand, no explanation will suffice . . . . . for a time to say goodbye. 

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About Dr. Nicholas Pappas


Dr. Nicholas Pappas is a former Chairman of the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. He has been involved in veterinary medicine for 40 years and has practiced for more than 30 years. You can reach Dr. Pappas at katdrpappas@gmail.com.

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